Monday, May 30, 2022



5/26/22 Maple Leaf (more of a sketch than a study)

I’m still thinking about what makes a study a study (compared to a “real” sketch). Here are three I made during the same walk on an overcast day, which was more challenging without sharp shadows.

The first (at left) works well as a composition study, except I got too involved in making a variety of marks to indicate the various layers of foliage. Ian Roberts would have told me to make the background foliage one large block of the appropriate value. (As I sketched, a police car drove up. The resident of a nearby house came out and asked me if everything was OK. I shrugged and said, “I’m just sketching,” and showed the sketch. He was delighted to see what I was doing. He thought I had called the police.)

Not much of a study, either.

The second sketch (at right) was made on one of my favorite neighborhood streets because it’s full of poles and wires looking directly north toward Northgate. It was fun, but I couldn’t see enough differentiation in tones. I still like it as a composition, though.

The last of the three (below) is the best example of a thumbnail as Roberts describes and uses one: It’s trying out a composition with three values to see if it could hold up as a larger, more detailed work. I stopped before getting involved in details. If I like it enough to pursue as a “real” sketch, there’s room to explore so that I won’t feel like I’m just repeating what I already did in the thumbnail. I’ve noticed that some of my favorite compositions end up fitting into a square. Maybe my square Hahnemühle sketchbook is influencing how I see compositions even when Im not using it.

One more thing I really like about making these small sketches while wandering the neighborhood is that no matter how small, rough or thumbnailish they are, they still feel like urban sketches to me. They are always tiny snapshots of things I see in Maple Leaf, always drawn on location, always of the moment. Nothing very exciting is happening, but collectively, they tell the story of where I live.

A true thumbnail


  1. The last one is the closest to a real thumbnail...and I like the square composition too. I have had people in neighborhoods come over to my car many times and ask if everything was OK. The police did it one day when I was sketching from the car in the rain with my sister in Myrtle Beach. When I showed him what I was doing he was very nice and told me not to worry about where we were parked and that nobody else would be coming out there in the rain. lol


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